Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Eviction day

Note:  I'm publishing this on the blog even though its not on the steps because I can't get it onto facebook today....

A week ago we went down to Zucotti. Missed Crosby and Nash by about an hour. My friend from the west was put off by the row of panhandlers holding down the west side of the park. I said tha it was inevitable, she was still disappointed. The knock off t-shirt and button sales likewise the unavoidable seeds and stems end of capitalism that’s probably been there since the beginning of time. Wherever two or three are gathered... someone’s going to try and sell something. Nevertheless, there was a sense of frayed edges. The spirit of whimsy and play still shone through in the growing “Occupy Legoland” being built on the north edge of the park. And inside we found a a friendly young artist giving away his art..maps of the US, New York City made up of words. And the same Hyde Park debates about economics continued here and there....

occupy legoland

And then when I woke up this morning, I found a text time-stamped 2:47 AM telling me the Park was in process of being dismantled. To get down there. But it was already too late. So we gathered at what has been the home for the faiuth community in this occupation, Judson Memorial. 
There was a general sense of confusion. Information changing by the minute via text and Twitter. But the conversation was good. We noted the cynical blaming of the presence of poor people and people with serious mental illness as an excuse for eviction. Of course, anyhwere there is free food and shelter those without resources will be drawn. The fault was not an endemic failing of Occupy but an indictment of a system and culture that forces people to the margins and leaves them there. And we as clergy have to keep that issue in front of our awareness.
Judson minister Michael Ellick, who has been close to the Occupation, said that the kitchen had been on the verge of collapse with no cooking facilitites and an overwhelming demand for food. 
There is also growing awareness (since confirmed by the  mayor of Oakland)  that there had been a coordinated effort of mayors across the country to clear the Occupations. Tactics were similar, the perfunctory warning, the klieg lights, the knifing of tents and trampling over personal property. And arrests. It was as if a Tiennaman Square moment had been reached. KInder, gentler, perhaps but there it was.  This collective pushback a sign that Occupy had begun to cause some serious concern. 
Debate swirled over what to do. “Don’t we need a list of demands?” a civil rights vetreran and longtime activist wanted to know. Rev. Ellick opposed  that idea explaining how he got what the movement was trying  to do by resisting codified demands. It’s so plain, every other protest we’ve been involved in hisotrically was to end this war, change that law, all within what exists. This time its different. It’s a call for a whole reboot. The whole thing is broken and has to be redone. No incremental change, no new millonaire’s tax can fix it. That’s what the growing intuition is saying. No wonder the authorities had had enough.
What to do? Apparently some had gone to Foley Square. There was a temporary court order allowing people back. But a hearing would be held at 11:30 am. Housing was being sought at churches for evictees.  Word had come of a new occupation at Duarte Park at 6th and Canal with an “interfaith presence” already there. Some would go there immediately. Others remain behind to strategize. 
Out on the steps I saw Father Daniel Berrigan, still alive, still present. Just like the planned Sunday visit of former Civil Rights leaders, torches being passed.
At Duarte, a crowd has gathered. Muslims, Jews, Christians, Buddhist clergy in a line. Longtime activist Father Paul Mayer from East Orange, New Jersey is speaking. Wearing a collar and a stole. Recalling Dr. King. A wild afroed man is nearby ranting. “How do you know he’s dead?” and when Father Mayer speaks of canonizing, the wild man says, “Cannibalize, cannibalize” .When he tries to yell out about Malcolm X, a large tattooed shaved head white guy moves him away. At least so far we have avoided an Altamont moment. 

Father Mayer

As Father Mayer finishes, an intense  crew cut young man in a suit and sneakers takes the (peoples’) mike. Explains that this move here was planned long before the eviction. That this was Trinity (Episcopal) Church property. (Trinity the invisible landlord of much of Wall Street.) He says that they are an ally. But that it will be better to act and occupy and then seek forgiveness than seek permission. He’s going to lead an invasion into the  fenced in construction site. 
Over the fence he goes and then more going over. When a critical mass is reached, they work a hole in the fence and eventually force open the gates. There is uncertainty. Some want to wait for the court order and return to Zucotti. The medics won’t go in. A very distraught young man says “No one in Occupy Wall Street has authorized this...we never voted...we...” But the crowd pours in. With symbolic houses, a giant Statue of Liberty puppet. And even the “Grannies for Peace” decide to go in. 

Lady Liberty Puppet

The seeming leader gets up in the face of one guy with a cell phone camera. “Cops out, no cops” he shouts. And someone else yells “Can’t the NYPD afford something better than an old Blackberry?” 
Some entering in. Some drumming. Many waiting. No idea where this is headed. 

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